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New Feature: Inline Commenting for Bill Text

February 23, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

A quick scan through the legislation pending in Congress and things look pretty good. They’re working on fixing the economy, helping people keep their homes, protecting children from online predators, etc. But with every piece of legislation, there is the ideal it represents, and then there is the specific changes to the law it proposes in order to achieve that ideal.

Usually it’s the specifics that really matter. That’s why we’re adding inline commenting for all legislative text on OpenCongress. For every bill in Congress (see hot bills), now you can leave comments and spark discussion on specific blocks of text within a bill. Just scroll over any section of bill text, and the option to leave a comment will appear. After you leave a comment, a marker will show up next to the block of text you commented on so that everyone who reads through the bill knows that they can click through to view your comment.

The top screenshot shows the normal view of a section of bill text with comments. The bottom one shows what happens when you click to view the comments.

This feature can be used in a variety ways – pointing out problematic language in a bill, asking questions for people with more legal expertise, suggesting changes and amendments, sharing related information from U.S. code, or just expressing your opinion. Bill text comments are threaded, so users can respond to your comments, offer secondary suggestion, answer your questions, etc.

We have also added the ability to easily create permalinks for specifics sections of bills. Just scroll over a section of bill text, click “Permalink,” and copy the new url from your browser’s address field. Now, when you’re blogging about a bill or discussing it on a forum, you can use the url to focus more easily on the specific provisions in a bill that are important to you.

Big thanks to Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Kevin Henry, working as a volunteer with GovTrack, for building the open-source code that this feature is based on!

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